Thirty years ago this August, at the 31st General Council in Sudbury, Moderator Bob Smith responded to the request of First Nations people in the United Church for an apology for the church’s role in colonization and the destruction of their cultures and spiritual practices.
His words were painfully honest, speaking truth not just to what European civilization had visited upon Indigenous peoples, but also to what we had brought upon ourselves:
We tried to make you be like us and in so doing we helped to destroy the vision that made you what you were. As a result, you, and we, are poorer and the image of the Creator in us is twisted, blurred, and we are not what we are meant by God to be.
Two years later, the Indigenous church acknowledged the Apology as “an important step forward” and expressed its hope and prayer “that the Apology is not symbolic but that these are the words of action and sincerity.”
This conversation changed us as a church, shifting our identity and setting us on a continuing journey from apology toward reconciliation.
As we approach the anniversary of the Apology, I invite you to join in reflecting on what it continues to mean to us as a church and how we can, as individuals and communities of faith, live it out in action and sincerity.
I invite you to take time at an upcoming meeting of Conference or presbytery to read both the Apology and the Indigenous church’s response, and to reflect on them in light of the Calls to Action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Resources have been prepared to help you with this—please see below.
I also invite you to make use of a new worship service marking the Apology that we will make available for use in your community of faith on June 5 or 12. This material will also be posted on this website soon.
And finally, I invite you to pilgrimage with me and with representatives of the Indigenous church to the site where Elders received the Apology in 1986. In 1988, in what we now recognize as the settler (non-Indigenous) church’s first step toward reconciliation, Manitou Conference erected—but, on the guidance of Elder Art Solomon, did not complete—a cairn on this site. It stands as a reminder to us of the promise we made and the work still required to fulfill that promise. Please join us there on August 20, or visit the site yourself at another time.
As I began preparing for the August trip, which will involve worship at a local church on Sunday, I turned to the lectionary and found the familiar text of Isaiah 58. It reminds us that if we choose the fast of justice, then “your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to live in.”
It is a comforting thought, that we can revisit the past, and although we cannot undo the harms we have caused, we can make amends. We can repair what we have torn apart and restore what we have destroyed. But as Isaiah reminds us, it is a choice we make. Please join with me this spring and summer in recommitting to that choice we made as a church 30 years ago as we continue the journey from Apology towards Reconciliation.
The Right Reverend Jordan Cantwell
The United Church of Canada